For some time now, my wife and I have been trying to move our family’s menu into the organic section. This began, as I recall, with a series of articles on pesticides and GMOs. Soon, my wife came upon a “10 worst” list of offender foods (mostly fruits and vegetables) that we had to begin avoiding. Many of these were a step up in the flavor department, as well—the apples in particular.
Expansion continued, and soon all your base belonged to us. Meat is now purchased only in grass-fed, hormone-free forms; fruit, vegetables, and grains are organically grown and processed; and our eggs are from happy little free-range chickens. Super.
I won’t complain about the theory behind it all. I’m not a big fan of putting additional chemicals into my body, and I’m well aware of how grass-fed and free range animals tend to be higher in essential fatty acids, and free from a lot of the build-up of standard-use farm chemicals. What I do have an issue with is the cost.
For your standard fruits and vegetables, you can expect to pay something like double the price per pound or per item. That may not be a big deal when you’re buying one apple, but when your family goes through about four of them every day, you’re buying around $30 in apples each week, instead of $15; that means that, over a month, you’re spending an additional $60 or so on JUST APPLES.
For meat, expect to pay at least double, and possibly 2.5 times as much for organic, grass-fed beef and chicken. You also get the dubious pleasure of navigating a seemingly endless array of organic-ish options. Some of what you will find is labeled “organic”; other possibilities are “grass-finished,” meaning that the animal didn’t get grain for a final fattening before slaughter, “hormone free,” means that the animal didn’t receive any additional hormones, either for milking purposes (obviously more related to dairy than meat), or for growth, and “antibiotic free,” means that the animal didn’t receive a standard ration of antibiotics in its feed or water—a common practice for animal producers to avoid sickness in the herd. Often, labels will contain a combination of these terms, and it’s up to the consumer to know the difference and decide what they want.
Confusing terminology also comes up a lot with things like canned goods and packaged foods. Companies may use terms like “all natural,” hoping for the same kind of consumer respect and attention as “organic.” They don’t mean the same thing, though. Coal and oil are “all natural,” but you wouldn’t necessarily want to eat them.
Canned goods have a similar labeling spectrum, but may also claim to have a “BPA-Free lining.” This is actually an important one, in my opinion. Often, canned goods have their shelf lives extended by putting a coating on the inside of the can. This is especially common with acidic foods, like canned tomatoes, which would otherwise eat right through the can. The trouble is that many of these linings contain Bisphenol-A, which can mimic estrogen in the body. While there’s a pretty good chance that the average person would never hit an intake threshold of BPA that would prove conclusively damaging, there aren’t enough studies looking at things like long-term, low-level exposure. It just makes sense to me to limit or eliminate exposure to these types of chemicals—especially in the foods my boys will be consuming.
Obviously things like BPA-free canned goods and organic packed foods demand the same premiums, if not more, than their fresh counterparts. There are ways to get around buying the products entirely—working with dried beans, for example—but they aren’t all practical for families with two parents in full-time employment.
The conclusion that I keep coming back to is a simple one: we need to take a step back as a society and start doing things for ourselves again. In my article on multi-tasking life, I talked about how I’ve never really felt like I fit into the specialist mold society seems determined to put people in. Maybe it’s time that I add one more trade under my belt: gardener…and maybe it’s time a lot of other people did the same—particularly those of us with back yards. Yes, it’s time consuming and can be labour intensive, but it’s highly unlikely that the chemical and hormone concentrations in our food are going to decrease, and buying everything from a supplier is clearly only for those with a big stack of money lying around—and I’m not one of those people.
Until I am, I’ll be out in the garden if you need me (once it thaws…if it ever thaws). Feel free to come join me. Bring beer.